When I walked into the support group meeting, my tears rushed forward like a dam released. Each tear represented a broken promise, a silent lie, a passed out state, another crack in my heart. We all gathered around the table, each sharing a summary of the story that brought us through the door. Some were dealing with alcohol, others, drugs. When it was my turn to share, I explained one child fighting alcoholism but was unable to speak the truth of drug use in my other child’s life. I started crying again and waved them on to the next parent.
That was over two years ago, and we have experienced far worse than I had that day. As we gathered week after week, I was able to calm down enough to confide in the other parents. At one of the meetings, the leader asked me how old my daughter was. I told him she was 24, and he almost giggled. He said to me, “You will have to start over with your daughter when she is ready. It will be like raising her all over again.” Stunned, I shook my head in agreement as though I already knew this. The truth was, I knew nothing, and couldn’t have prepared myself for what was to come. Then, he landed one more punch to my gut.
He said, “Your son has been in prison for a long time (8 years at the time); living a normal life is going to be hard.”
I left that meeting defeated in every way. If I had failed to raise my child right the first time, how did he expect I could do better a second? If prison didn’t show my son a life he wanted, how is not living in prison supposed to be enticing? The anger I felt at this fate turned into a deep sadness. I drove home in tears with a broken heart and a broken soul.
I can verify the gentleman with all the bad news was correct. His experience gifted me with the wisdom I would need for the next two years. As I learned how to love my daughter where she was, in the middle of an addiction, I considered ‘raising’ her again. I learned to tread lightly in my frustration and to choose my words timely and wisely. If what we say is never received, we are wasting our breath. It reminds me of a screaming toddler amid a temper tantrum. We never sat down at that moment and began one of those toddler talks. We chose a time they were calm and could listen. Then, I remembered my unfortunate timing and unheard words in those teenage years. Everything I said went in one ear and out the other (or never entered for all I know). If I wanted to build trust in communication with my daughter, then I had to be intentional with each word.
How do we love those who not only appear unlovable in their mess but also hate us in it, as well? I had dodged fists and verbal attacks, put up bail money (only once), picked up my grand-kids from a ravaged house with a passed out mom, and cleaned out more hidden empty bottles than I can count. Still, the pain I felt when the handcuffs went on killed me. The hopelessness was burning through my soul the way Satan enjoys.
Every day I chose love, and I decided to hold back. When my daughter expected me to explode, I didn’t. I talked to her with gentle authority and reality. If we were talking about her drinking, then I called it out. If we were talking about her kids, I stated the truth. My tone remained calm (most days), and my heart led the way. I watched, powerless, as she stumbled further to her bottom. I thought the day she committed felony assault would be that bottom, but she fell deeper than that.
My daughter called in the middle of the night. I missed all the calls due to bad cell service, so I woke to an emergency text and voicemails. Her boyfriend beat her up, threatened to kill her, and then chased her down the highway; the kids were traumatized. She had only got them back a couple of months prior. Unable to reach her, I immediately drove to her home. I found the two adults sleeping. I gathered my grandkids, begged her to come with me, and left. She refused to leave.
Days later, she checked herself into rehab, moved into our home, and began the long road to recovery. Covered in deep bruises, she worked through healing-physical and mental. After six months, she continues to be clean and sober. She eventually turned the boyfriend into the police and is awaiting the results.
We have built a dependable and honest relationship. After years of believing I was the enemy, she calls me her rock. I have to trust God’s timing in every step of this journey. Without his guiding light to illuminate the way in her dark world, I would have failed her and hurt me. For the first time, she takes responsibility and accepts the harsh consequences.
We are only six months into this, and I know every day is a work in progress for her and me. There are good days and bad. I have learned to accept my faults and weaknesses, just as we do hers. I had to stop believing I could fix any part of her, and I just had to love within safe boundaries. I stopped blaming myself and asking what I did wrong, and accepted that she made her choices.
The hardest part is knowing that the consequences don’t only affect her, but the entire family. God provides the strength for all of us to keep moving forward. While I will never embrace this journey, I welcome the gifts along the way. Every lesson learned is a part of life that we take with us. The blessing is knowing I am never alone. When a bad day arises, I will get through it because Jesus lives here. I no longer fear the tears, because through them all, I grew. I don’t wait for a happy ending; I appreciate the happy moments along the way.
May God bless all the parents who battle addiction but never chose addiction.